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and made honest and open profession of it ;→ then might we all, with our Gothic ancestors, have been offering human sacrifices to imagi nary implacable gods, or worshiping dead men and women called saints, as did our popish ancestors. And thus error and darkness would have been perpetual, and truth never found, or, when it was found, stifled.
This was the cause that never any reformation could take place in the heathen world ; for the philosophers had not the zeal and courage to attempt it, but joined the multitude whom they despised, in their worship of Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Bacchus,-gods guilty of unnatural crimes, vicious, knavish, intemperate,―reading their moral lectures only to a select few who attended them.
Till a small number of unlearned fishermen and mechanics, the scholars of one who laid claim to no aids of human science, of a nation despised and everywhere hated, stepped forth; and influenced by a divine spirit and power, and an invincible courage and love of truth, in a short time taught thousands in all countries, and of all degrees, especially the lowest, the knowledge of one first supreme Cause and benevolent Author of all things, and
and only object of worship, and man's endless expectations from him in a future existence, which philosophy could never teach; and thus set an example of the good that must result from a bold and open testimony to truth.
3. In all nice difficult points of moral conduct, such as that we have now been discussing, there is a safe rule which we may always follow; viz. to keep to that which is plain, and we know to be right, and never to do any thing which we suspect may be wrong.
We are thus secure, and stand upon a rock, when we have the fair well-weighed testimony of our own minds along with us; for this will always give us inward satisfaction, and support our spirits, when we can make our appeal that we have demeaned ourselves with simplicity and godly sincerity, and have not been backward in seeking all the light we could procure, and have acted up to it.
Fashion, convenience, respect due to others, fear of disquieting them, and the like, are not the motives that should influence us in the choice of our religion, or the rules by which, we are to regulate our conduct with respect to the Being we are to worship, or the worship to be paid to him;-but what we are persuaded
to be his will, and therefore acceptable to him. Nor let any imagine that we may customarily unite with others in a worship which we deem wrong and unwarrantable, and dissemble our better knowledge for good ends, to make us more useful, and enable us to do the more good. It were better for us certainly to leave the Governor of the world to take care of it in his own way, and not venure out of the line of our duty, and transgress the laws of strict integrity which he has prescribed to us, (to do evil that good may come,) but to trust him, that the way of truth and sincerity which he hath enjoined will be best for us and for all.
4. One short remark, arising from the history we have been treating, though not directly in the train of what has gone before, will finish what I have to observe to you at present.
In this Syrian general we see the way of divine Providence in bringing men to the knowledge of the truth when they little looked for it. Happy if all were disposed to improve it as was this worthy person. And to this circumstance our Lord perhaps might allude, when, in rebuke of his townsmen, who slighted
their own great advantages in having himself among them, he says; (Luke iv. 27.) "Many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.".
In the fortune of war, a female captive, taken, and by chance as it were brought into this general's family, prompted by her concern for a fatal distemper her master laboured under, makes mention to her mistress of a man endued with divine power in her own country. From this slight incident, and pressed by the virulence of his disease, Naaman was carried into Samaria, and not only miraculously healed of his leprosy, but at the same time cured of a much worse disease of the mind,pride, and ignorance of the true God.
So might we trace the hand and immediate appointment of God for good in our own history, if we would but accustom ourselves to turn our eyes this way.
The time and place of our birth, dispositions of our parents, manner of education, our first companions ;-by these, which are things not of our own choice, our characters are mostly formed to good or otherwise. If little of good be acquired in early life, or lost afterwards,
afterwards, a sudden happy turn is sometimes given to the dispositions, or a gradual lasting change made in the character, by the company we fall into, the more intimate connexions we make; by books, by discourses private or public which we hear, and by other incidents of our lives not to be numbered.
And all these, which by many harshly and heedlessly are termed fortune, chance, accident, are but the work and operation of God, without whom, literally, not a sparrow falleth to the ground: Matth. x. 29.
Our wisdom is to follow the divine call and guidance, in whatever way made known to us, which this great Syrian captain seems to have done in a very exemplary sort.
And if the divine word, which hath been before us this day, hath suggested aught whereby we may be led to correct what is wrong or bad, or be carried on in that which is good, our labour will not have been in vain, and the good providence of God is to be acknowledged for that and for every thing.
Unto him, &c.
O eternal, ever-blessed Lord God, the kind